November 20, 2014

Whither the Law Review, and Of What Use Is the Blog, If We Want To Have Fruitful Conversations About Law

Katharina Isabel Schmidt (Yale Law School) offers a comparative look at US and German law journals, blogs, and their uses in the transmission of legal ideas here in a post at the Völkerrechtsblog (English translation: Public International Law Blog). Here's an excerpt.

American law journals are interesting for the most part, if not necessarily always useful. German law journals, in turn, while useful for the most part, are not necessarily always interesting. As adumbrated above, this is due to the particular division of competences within the German legal profession on the one hand and the American legal profession on the other hand. German scholars, unlike their American counterparts, are routinely cited in court decisions. As such, they have no choice but to deliver the doctrinal goods expected of them. In the United States, unlike in Germany, placing articles in top-tier journals constitutes a necessary step on the long and winding road to tenure. As such, one can hardly blame aspiring academics for pretending to reinvent the wheel one case note at a time. In addition, trans-Atlantic divergences in the structure of legal education naturally influence the extent to which German and American jurists are able to produce and consume interdisciplinary knowledge. The – admittedly overblown – distinction between the common and the civil law tradition further contributes to making matters look positively discombobulated.
For some folks, that last sentence conveys fighting words! ;) Ms. Schmidt goes on to suggest that one way to further invigorate the intellectual tradition is to exploit the blog format.

At the same time I would argue that blogs like the present one hold the potential to facilitate conversations about law that are free from the intricate constraints of national legal science. In particular, the kind of jurisprudential writing they make possible confronts scholars and practitioners alike with ideas that lie outside the realm of their necessarily limited intellectual experience. It is in this way that blogs and other non-traditional platforms allow for a much-needed re-appreciation of what it means to be a jurist in the 21st century. Therefore, the goal of law blogs and similar projects should be an attempt to counterbalance the deficits inherent in traditional approaches to the exchange of ideas about law and the legal profession – deficits exemplified by my discussion of contemporary American and German law journal culture.

Hannah Birkenkötter (Humboldt University) responds to the notion of evolving structures of intellectual transmission in a post here. An excerpt:

In her insightful and very pertinent blog post on legal formats, Katharina Isabel Schmidt takes a comparative look at law journals and legal formats in the US and Germany, the two systems that she is familiar with. Most of her observations correspond to my experience (although I have only spent a few weeks in the US, so most of my observations are grounded in conversation with colleagues and friends as well as reading American-authored scholarship rather than first-hand experience “on the ground”) and I wholeheartedly agree that comparative looks at legal formats allow us to “re-imagine the future of legal knowledge production”. I am skeptical, however, whether non-traditional means of knowledge production, in particular blogs, truly have the “potential to facilitate conversations about law that are free from the intricate constraints of national legal science” (emphasis my own). I’ve rather found legal blogs, or blawgs, especially of the academic type, to be quite different depending on the legal culture they are rooted in. I certainly agree that blogs have the potential, and are actually used as a means to disturb existing hierarchies and conventions of scientific communication, and that on both sides of the Atlantic. But at the same time, they are not free of their respective legal traditions.
But as Ms. Birkenkötter notes, blogs do allow new identities, regardless of the tradition, to emerge, more so in the US, perhaps less so in Germany, "While not free from constraints, they provide alternative platforms and thus room for alternative topics, actors and approaches. This very conversation is, in my view, proof of it. So let’s continue the talk."

I fully agree. I would point out that, in addition to blogs, other formats have emerged, including online law review journals, such as Stanford Law Review Online.  The Library of Congress has a listing of journals available online, although not all journals listed are exclusively "online" journals; some are print journals with an online presence and/or online "exclusives." Such an online approach allows frequent updating and permits a publication to address "up to the minute" topics and breaking news. It allows academics to "be relevant." It lets us use the more effective and efficient features of the web, including the ability to be interactive and to respond to critiques quickly, so that we really can engage in conversation on a frequent basis, rather than wait until those pleasant but increasingly expensive conferences roll around. Maybe we'll now get more out of them.

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